February 21, 2014 at 3:40 pm

UAW appeals vote defeat at VW Chattanooga plant

United Auto Workers President Bob King discusses the union's 712-626 defeat in an election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga on Feb. 14. (Erik Schelzig / AP)

The United Auto Workers said Friday it has filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming politicians and special interest groups interfered with union’s efforts to organize a Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The NLRB will investigate the UAW’s claims — which include a statement by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who said the Chattanooga plant would get more work if employees voted against UAW representation. The board, if needed, will hold a new election at the plant.

“It’s an outrage that politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that that would grow jobs in Tennessee,” said UAW President Bob King, in a statement. “It is extraordinary interference in the private decision of workers to have a U.S. senator, a governor and leaders of the state legislature threaten the company with the denial of economic incentives and workers with a loss of product.”

The union suffered a major defeat last week as workers at the Volkswagen plant narrowly rejected a proposal to form a German-style works council and join the UAW. A works council is established by plant employees but paid for by the employer to negotiate factory-specific conditions, such as bonuses, daily work hours and codes of conduct. Bargaining for wages and benefits is done by an industry-level union.

Corker, a longtime UAW opponent, said just days before voting at the Chattanooga plant began that he had “conversations ... and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new midsize SUV here in Chattanooga.”

VW fired back in a statement and said Corker’s comment wasn’t true: “There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees’ decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market,” the company said.

“Senator Corker’s conduct was shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen,” the UAW objection read. “The clear message of the campaign was that voting for the union would result in stagnation for the Chattanooga plant, with no new product, no job security, and withholding of state support for its expansion.”

A representative from Corker’s office did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment on Friday afternoon.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a week before the plant union vote, had warned that if workers decided to join the UAW, it could make it harder for the state to attract auto suppliers. State Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, called the UAW campaign at the plant “un-American.”

“Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate,” he said on Feb. 10, two days before the three-day vote began.

And Grover Norquist, an anti-tax advocate, rented billboards in the Chattanooga area displaying anti-union messages.

VW endorsed the idea of a works council at the plant and didn’t hire anti-union consultants or make presentations urging workers to oppose a union. Some automakers in the past — implicitly or explicitly — have said they could shift work to other plants if the union was recognized.

Works councils have been effective at Volkswagen and other companies in Europe. Their inclusive membership — they are made up of representatives of blue- and white-collar workers, managers and supervisors — helps reduce conflict and promotes the view that the employer and its employees are partners in a common enterprise.

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